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Tech Transfer - Open for Business (con't)Michael Morgenstern

Tech Transfer: Open for Business (continued)

Quality control has also became crucial to Charles E. Boult, MD, MPH, MBA, a professor of Health Policy and Management, who helped to develop Guided Care, a health care delivery model aimed at improving services for older adults with multiple chronic illnesses. In the Guided Care system, a single health care worker—typically a nurse—collaborates with several physicians to coordinate each patient’s care, ensuring that their needs are met and that various providers are not duplicating care or working at cross-purposes. A randomized trial found that the system improved the quality of patients’ care and tended to reduce the use of expensive services.

For the first two years of the model’s existence, Boult and his colleagues simply released it into the public domain, with no intention of patenting, trademarking or licensing it. Then he began to hear from federal agencies that other people around the country were claiming to use “Guided Care” in their grant applications—but drastically watered-down versions of Boult’s original model. “They were using ratios of one nurse to 500 patients, whereas the Guided Care model calls for ratios of 1 to 55,” Boult says. “They were basically going to erode the system’s credibility … it was a far less intensive intervention than what had been developed and tested.”

So in early 2009, Boult and his colleagues filed a disclosure with the Hopkins tech transfer office and began to secure their intellectual property. The process was a minor headache, he says, but his problem was solved. Whenever rogue versions of Guided Care emerge, the University’s tech transfer office sends a cease-and-desist letter.

At the same time, Boult has insisted on keeping the licensing fees low. (Depending on how many Guided Care nurses are employed, health care systems pay between $1,000 and $50,000 for a three-year license.) “This model was developed with taxpayer money, and I feel an obligation to make it available to American taxpayers,” Boult says. “If we’re licensing it in the United States, price should not be a barrier.”

Some activists at the Bloomberg School carry that sentiment further: They believe price shouldn’t be a barrier to Hopkins-generated innovations anywhere in the world. Kaci Hickox, who completed an MPH in December, has been a member of the Hopkins chapter of the University Alliance for Essential Medicines, an international campaign to ensure that medicines and medical devices are accessible in the developing world. “When I worked in Burma with Doctors Without Borders, I saw up close how important it is for people to have access to HIV medications,” Hickox says.

“What kind of biomedical scientist leaves the bench and goes around scrounging up funding and planning factories? But I actually see this as a continuation of my life’s work.”—Eddy Agbo

For the near term, the Hopkins chapter’s goal is to persuade the University to sign on to the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies, which was developed by the Association of University Technology Managers. Universities that sign the statement pledge to develop licenses that “align incentives among all stakeholders to promote broad access to health-related technologies in developing countries.” Duke, Harvard, Yale and 23 other institutions have signed the pledge—but many others have not.

In response, Blakeslee says: “Hopkins is fully committed to the ideals of assuring that essential medicines are widely available.”

Across town at the University of Maryland Biopark, Eddy Agbo, PhD, DVM, reflects on his latest venture in business and life. A Nigerian-born biomedical researcher who was a research fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Agbo leads Fyodor (the small firm that is developing Sullivan’s urine-based malaria diagnostic).

“Ten years ago, this is something I never would have imagined myself doing,” says Agbo. “What kind of biomedical scientist leaves the bench and goes around scrounging up funding and planning factories? But I actually see this as a continuation of my life’s work. The only difference is that now, there’s a very targeted goal. We’re trying to bring some products to market and bring some tangible change to society.” Agbo hopes that someday these urine-based malarial diagnostics could be packaged together with small doses of medication, so that families could diagnose themselves at home and begin treatment promptly.

It has been a long road: Sullivan and his colleagues developed their diagnostic concept nearly a decade ago. “One thing I’ve learned is that you need to be patient,” says Sullivan. For now, he is doing what he knows best and sticking to his Hopkins lab. Among other things, he and his colleagues are combing through a huge library of drugs whose safety in humans has already been established, trying to learn if they might have effectiveness against rare diseases of the developing world.

If that research bears fruit, he will file a patent application—and steel himself for another decade of patience.

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